Thursday, 10 May 2012

Spooky speed work

I'm not a speedy runner. I'm more of your back of the pack runner that just likes to do his own thing - what that actual 'thing' is though, I'm not really sure? It could be as simple as preservation - preserving me that is - or it might be laziness or it could be a case of not having much running talent. While running around the French Alps (Tour du Mont Blanc) in 2001, I was told that my legs were suffering because of something called LOFT, which is a mnemonic for 'Lack Of Focused Training' but in my case it's meaning was changed to Lack Of F****ing Talent! Mind you the person uttering those words was one of two Geordies who were doing the run with me, both of whom just loved abusing the softy southerner among them.

Even though I am a slow runner, I do take my training seriously - thresholds, kenyan hills, long runs, recovery runs, steady runs, gym work, I do them all several times a week and I take rest days as well. The latter because as an 'oldie', my body needs to do nothing now and again. I don't know about you but I like to do my training - and running - off road; it's just great to be running through nature rather than running through exhaust fumes and other nasties associated with running on roads. Mind you, off road running can bring it's own form of nasties and I'm not talking here about tree roots, rocks and pot holes, I'm talking about the nasties that lurk in your mind when running at night through deeply dark woodland and forest trails or when crossing open ground, such as that found on Caesars Camp, in thick fog. Canal towpaths and old railway lines are not the friendliest of places either as the slightest splash or rustle can make your heart rate jump to it's max in the blink of an eye; or perhaps more fittingly, a heart beat. These same nasties can also bring - at a cost to your mental health - great benefits too. Speed, pace and cadence for instance can be transformed into super flight when your hackles are raised and your imagination is running riot; the strongest of head lamps won't help you either... it's far too late for that. Recently I found myself doing a 3 x 8 minute threshold session around the tracks and trails of Caesars Camp just as darkness descended and, yep you've guessed it, I got spooked, so spooked that afterwards I just had to share it on facebook. This is what I wrote:

'60mins of spooky running tonight - in the darkness of the woods, eyes of deer and foxes reflected back my torch light, soldiers in full camouflage drifted silently in and out of the darker pine stands - a lone owl hooting above their heads. In the grassy fields bordering my running grounds, unseen dogs barked frantically as a powerful light swept over the ground - perhaps a 'lamper' out looking for a rabbit supper?

I can tell you that with each 8 minute circuit through these dark running grounds, my speed increased proportionally to the level of fear felt. I was exhausted when I got home! This is not my first spooky speed work experience, in fact I've had quite a few over the years; some best forgotten but some are well remembered too, like the time I ran from home to my then running club, Blackwater Valley Runners, on a rather dark Halloween night. I'll leave that tale another time though. 

Monday, 5 March 2012

Training for an Ultra - Part 1.

Mainly because of a bio mechanics problem - now sorted - with my left foot and an unexpected collapsed vein problem in my right leg - again now sorted - I have not been able to run any meaningful distances since the summer of 2006. The meaningful distance back then was a 100K footrace called the Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset and for which I trained by doing other ultra races such as the now defunct Thames Meander, a 54 mile footrace that followed the Thames Path from Reading to the outskirts of London. This year, the year of 2012, I have decided is the year to try and run an ultra again and to that end I have entered a new ultra event called 'The Wall Run' - a 69 mile race/run that follows Hadrian's Wall from Carlisle to Newcastle. My enthusiasm for this race must have been infectious at the time, as a friend of mine who has never run in an ultra event before, has also entered this race on the proviso that we 'do it together'. Given that she is a top level Physiotherapist who not only lectures on the subject at University level but also practices her craft at World and Olympic events, I'm happy to oblige!

The training then...

Back in 2006 and before that even, I did my own thing training wise, relying on specific books and information gleaned from Internet sources, such as the Dead Runners Society to work out what it was I should be doing. Today I still I am still doing that but I also have a personal running coach who provides me with weekly running/training schedules that, I hope, will help me reach my goal - he thinks I'm mad by the way and that runs over the marathon distance are mad too. I ignore his opinions about ultra running, mainly because he was a top notch fell runner in his younger days, which in my view makes him madder than me. This regular weekly training consists of a mix of run types - i.e short recovery runs to long 'n slow plus thresholds and Kenyan hills. In between these runs I am expected to do cardiovascular and strength training at the gym. Oh, and I get a rest day too. Back to back running is slowly being introduced into my training, as it is essential that me and my body, especially my legs and feet, get used to the idea of relentless forward progress. On my home running grounds I have got up to doing a 3 hour run one day followed by an 1 hour run the next. Soon I'll be pushing this up to 5 hours and 2 hours and I'll be doing this over the Cleveland Hills in North East England with my buddy and some of her local friends. I think that's going to be a lot harder! I'll tell you more later.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Watch this space...

Running/training going well so far this year - last year, as a friend commented, I lost my mojo somewhat and my writing and my running just fizzled out. So, maybe this year things will be different. I certainly hope so, as I have entered a 69 mile ultra run/race that follows (more or less) Hadrian's Wall from Carlisle to Newcastle. The run is called The Wall by the way and I am doing it all in one go! In order to get fit enough, I have ramped up my training and have entered a 33 mile race as part of that training - it's all about time on your feet and staying injury free. I will also have to sort my nutrition out with a view to losing weight. By June - that's when the race is - I want/need to be under 12 stone, preferably hovering around 11 1/2 stone max. At this weight my running goes up a notch or two - guess I'd better be focused from now on in. Watch this space for more news.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Stuff about running

Seems my running is coming back. Been out training and just running and things are looking up. No toe pain to speak of, no misbehaving knee, no laboured breathing and the weight is coming off! Why, I can even sense a frison of excitement coursing through me when I'm out there running through the wild woods and along the sandy trails; and that's an experience I've not had for a while now.

A poem for the moment... by Arpan

Start- Run-Finish

The Start, the Finish


All the steps

We run in between

Can be seen

As many separate experiences,


Can be taken

As one complete meal,

Ready to be eaten

when we are hungry

To be nourished

By the dynamic energy

Of life on earth.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Amaryllis in my kitchen...

I have never really thought about it before but an Amaryllis has a certain, dare I say it, eroticism about it - at least the one in my kitchen does. After spending a few days thrusting its strong green stem ever upwards, our Amaryllis now stands proudly erect on the kitchen window sill, offering passers by, the sight of four beautiful, fully open flowers; their delicate stamens arcing outwards in outrageous temptation; an insect boudoir if ever there was one. To my mind, the sight of this fully complete flower shows that a healthy joining and flowering of both its male and female counterparts has taken place and that it has reached the zenith of its life cycle. In nature energy terms this joining and flowering represents the Yin and Yang and in human terms, is representative of a healthy balance of the masculine and feminine natures that reside within us all - that's what I think anyway. From this observation, I was left with the thought that it might be interesting to research the symbolism of the Amaryllis further; perhaps a Freudian view or some other symbolic meaning. My initial search however did not throw up any particular Freudian insights into this flower but I did find other symbolic meanings that are associated with learning and academia.

Amaryllis Flower Meanings:
  • Symbolic of success won after a struggle. These were often given in recognition of a job well done – particularly in scholastics, writing, and artistic endeavors. Give the poet in your life a bunch of amaryllis and you are encouraging his/her creative muse. You are also recognizing his/her achievements in the arts.
  • Legend has it that the amaryllis - the stunning red flower we've come to associate with the holidays - began as a shy, timid nymph. Amaryllis fell deeply in love with Alteo, a shepherd with Hercules' strength and Apollo's beauty, but her affections were unrequited. Hoping that she could win him over by bestowing upon him the thing he desired most - a flower so unique it had never existed in the world before - Amaryllis sought advice from the oracle of Delphi. Following his instructions, Amaryllis dressed in maiden's white and appeared at Alteo's door for 30 nights, each time piercing her heart with a golden arrow. When at last Alteo opened his door, there before him was a striking crimson flower, sprung from the blood of Amaryllis's heart. With this romantic - albeit tragic - tale as its beginning, it's not surprising that today the amaryllis has come to symbolize pride, determination and radiant beauty.

The Bud...

The Bud

I like this poem by Galway Kinnell, it speaks of hope, it offers salvation to those who have lost their way, it teaches us to recognise that beauty resides within all living things and that, most important of all, it can be resurrected!

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Walking back to happiness...

whoopah, oh yeah yeah - so the song by Helen Shapiro goes. Well, after my leg op on Wednesday, today I started walking; walking back to happiness, walking as many times and as far as possible, as directed by the consultant surgeon who laser blasted and removed some dodgy veins from my right leg. I'm told that I will have to walk and only walk for about 9 days or so before I can consider running again but I have to admit that while out walking today, the thought of perhaps trying out a little trot did enter my mind at times; this mainly brought about because of my leg not actually hurting while I walked. A friend of mine, who had similar work done last year unknowingly has set the standard for this walking recovery period of mine; she was quite focused on her recovery, stuck to the programme and on the ninth day, was able to start running again. I quite like that phrase 'and on the ninth day'; it has a certain biblical quality about it and also resonates quite well with my June 2009 blog, '54 days in the Desert', - at least it does to me. This imposed walking regime is in fact quite strange to me, especially as I have to walk long and far. No just ambling along anymore, this is about making my legs work, particularly the one that has been heated and boiled and is now full of holes. This walking is about getting the circulation going, about repairing the damage done to my leg veins and some nerves too. I'm told that if I was 21 years of age, new veins would grow but as I am 22 years PLUS, there is no chance of this happening. So in a time where society has deemed ageism to be a bad thing, my body decides to be ageist against itself. No surprise there then. Another thing about all this walking, is where to actually go and do it. There's only so many walks you can do from home; down the hill and turn left to the Co-op or turn right for the chippy. Go straight over for the football field and the burnt out childrens' play area or walk up the hill for the newsagent etc. You can see how it goes. I was imagining the other day that I might perhaps make up a series of walks that would loop out and back from my home, in effect treading out the shape of a many petaled flower, like say a Lotus flower. (I like the Lotus flower by the way and have always fancied having one tattooed on my head for some reason - !!). This at least would provide my walks with more meaning, more purpose and I could use my Garmin Forerunner to record each route I take and then download them onto a map to see how close I am to recreating each petal of my chosen flower - you can see how desperate I'm becoming with all this, can't you? As a result of my leg op, I can't drive for a week or so either, so I cannot take myself off very easily to the great outdoors, which actually is not that far away but without assistance, remains unreachable, unless that is, I plan and pack for a long day of walking. I'm not a natural high speed walker and if pushed to my limits, I can actually be in danger of losing my balance and falling over - you can ask my wife about this, as she has seen the stumble coming quite a few times now and finds it all quite entertaining. Even in ultra running events, I try to minimise my faster pace walking bits because of the stumble factor, adopting instead a sort of running shuffle that I feel much more secure with and which also minimises the chances of getting blisters appearing on the soles of my feet. Anyway, I can't run, not even shuffle run at the moment, so if I'm to reach the great outdoors, I must plan to be away for quite a while... or should I just stay local and start walking flowers? Hmm.